Madoff’s case bigger, but Stanford’s messier

By Loren Steffy

From the beginning, the collapse of R. Allen Stanford’s financial empire was unlike other financial scandals, and the aftermath of his alleged $7 billion

fraud has been messier than normal for investors in such cases.

Bernard Madoff, after all, orchestrated a Ponzi scheme almost 10 times bigger than the one Stanford is accused of running, yet Madoff pleaded guilty and is serving a lifetime prison sentence.

A receiver (Irving Picard) has recovered billions that is being distributed to investors, and an insurance pool funded by the brokerage industry is covering at least some of the additional losses.

Not so in the Stanford case. Investors are likely to recover almost nothing from the receiver Ralph Janvey, and on Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued the industry insurance fund, the Securities Investor Protection Corp., which since June has refused the SEC’s order to pay.

Stanford Financial was an SIPC member, and it slapped the fund’s logo on its investment offerings. While the SIPC doesn’t provide blanket insurance – it only protects against securities that are lost or stolen in brokerage failures, not losses on the value of investments – it was happy to allow Stanford to use its name to foster a false aura of security.

It now argues that those same investors don’t deserve coverage because Stanford brokers were peddling certificates of deposits issued by Stanford’s Caribbean bank.

But investors I’ve spoken with said their money went through, and perhaps never left, Stanford’s brokerage with the SIPC seal on the door.

The distinction between the Stanford and Madoff cases is most stark in how investors have been treated by the organizations that are supposed to protect them.

Madoff was, after all, a Wall Street insider who catered to other well-connected financiers and movie stars. The SIPC agreed to cover their losses. Kevin Bacon, it seems, will have a lesser degree of separation from his wealth than the average Stanford investor. Similarly, when MF Global, a commodities trader run by the former U.S. senator and Goldman Sachs honcho Jon Corzine, tanked on bad investments in European markets, the SIPC rushed in to repay some of the losses for the firm’s wealthy hedge fund clients.

Stanford’s investors for the most part are more pedestrian. They were well-off but not wealthy. Most invested for retirement, and while much was made of the ridiculous interest rates promised on Stanford CDs, investors said what attracted them most was the safety. They were looking for a shelter from turbulent markets, and CDs, Stanford brokers told them, were a safe move.

Many didn’t go to Stanford, Stanford came to them. The firm built its brokerage by recruiting investment advisers from other firms who brought clients with them. Seduced by the green marble desktops and cherry-wood interiors, they knowingly or not lured into Stanford’s web clients with whom they’d built up trust over many years.

Stanford’s investors also were hurt by bad timing. Their plight came just months after Madoff dominated the national news, and it was overshadowed by a mounting recession, looming bank failures and government bailouts.

And so, amid national disinterest and regulatory foot-dragging, Stanford investors have become the alleged victims of a forgotten fraud. It’s not surprising, then, that their fate depends on the unprecedented legal action by the SEC against the SIPC.

For three years, they’ve had to fight just for a chance to grab the safety net that was thrown to investors in other scandals.

Visit the Stanford International Victims Group – SIVG official forum http://sivg.org/forum/

 

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